首页 > >
Countdown to Beijing 2022******
by sportswriter Dong Yixing
BEIJING, Oct. 29 (Xinhua) -- 17 is an age old enough for Shaun White to become the first person to win medals in both the Summer and Winter X Games, and for Chloe Kim to become the youngest woman to win an Olympic snowboarding gold medal.
But for Chinese snowboarder Zhang Jiahao, it was the age when he first took up snowboarding. Now 26, Zhang is fighting to stand on the Big Air ramp at the upcoming Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics.
Born in Beijing in 1995, Zhang dreamed of becoming a policeman when he was little. But in fact, he was something of a troublemaker as a boy, playing with video games, his Game Boy, yo-yo, crickets, dragonflies, tadpoles... Anything but studying was Zhang's favorite thing to do.
After graduating from junior high school, Zhang enrolled at a vocational high school for culinary education, following in the footsteps of his father - a baker.
Having tried swimming, basketball and other sports, Zhang fell in love with rollerskating after receiving a pair of skates from his aunt when he was five. It was not until his second year of high school that he was dragged to Nanshan Ski Resort near Beijing by some friends and tried snowboarding for the first time.
Zhang admitted that he was "young and bold" as first - no mask, no helmet, no gloves. But perhaps it was his experience in rollerskating that helped him slide down the hill smoothly. After only two days of practise, Zhang went straight to the jumping hill, adding "I was not afraid at all."
From then on, Zhang has been snowboarding for nine years without taking any breaks longer than one month, except for injuries.
At first, Zhang could only go snowboarding at weekends, as he had to work at hotel restaurants during the week. After a rotation of Japanese, Italian and pastry, he opted for the bakery simply because it had only night shifts, allowing him to snowboard during the day.
In his first year of work, Zhang received only 1,200 yuan (about 188 U.S. dollars) per month as an internship subsidy, almost all of which he spent on snowboarding, mobile phone bills and transportation expenses, but he was "really enjoying it and made rapid progress."
In order to hit the slopes as much as possible in his limited time, Zhang neither ate at the resort nor went to the bathroom just to save time for one more run, earning him the nickname of "the snowboard machine."
During his toughest time, Zhang only slept four hours a day as he would go snowboarding for two and a half hours after work in the morning, and then go home to sleep. Then he would wake up, work the night shift at the hotel, and go back to the ski resort after work in the morning.
Zhang participated in his first competition in January 2014. A backflip followed by a 360 earned him ninth place in the Nanshan Open and a contract with his first sponsor. "Very happy," Zhang said. "It just lifted me up and made me more confident. There was an inner force that drove me forward and it was completely different afterwards."
At the end of 2016, Zhang quit his hotel job and relied on several part-time jobs while snowboarding. It was not enough to afford his expenses and he had to rely on family support. But by 2017, he was able to pay for himself.
During these years, Zhang suffered a variety of injuries, including broken hands, a ligament fracture in his right leg, spiral fibula fracture, concussion and collapsed lung, but his love for and faith in the sport kept him going.
"In fact, I never thought of giving up in the first five years of snowboarding," said the 26-year-old. "But later, the pressure became heavier. All the competitions, injuries, and other things made me hesitate, but it was only a fleeting thought."
"I may be talented and hardworking, but it was the faith that made me who I am today."
As Beijing won the bid for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, Zhang learned that snowboarders could have a chance to qualify for the Games if they competed in certain international events and achieved a certain level of points and rankings during the Olympic qualifying cycle.
Looking at his daily progress, the thought of competing at Beijing 2022 started to grow in his mind. "I wanted to do my best. For me, it's not about the results, it's all about the process."
"I was not sure what was going to happen at that time," Zhang noted. "I just felt that I was progressing very fast and could have a chance to compete." Zhang has been competing in Canada and Sweden since 2020, hoping to earn enough points to qualify for Beijing 2022.
Zhang had planned to go to South America for competitions in August this year but the COVID-19 pandemic, visa applications and other difficulties got in the way. But fortunately, the competition he had planned to attend was postponed, and he was granted a last-minute entry permit.
As Zhang finally hit the road, a 10-day snowfall ahead of the competition made the trail conditions better, allowing the competition to proceed as scheduled. Zhang won one gold and one bronze in the Big Air and Slopestyle events respectively.
With the points earned in Chile, Zhang now ranks third among all Chinese athletes in the two events on the Olympic provisional quota list.
After many ups and downs, Zhang said he is still happy but less excited than before. At the age of 26, Zhang admitted that he was no longer at his best. But even if there was only a 1 percent chance, he would fight for it. "In Chile, I didn't expect to win at all. Just step by step, one after another."
Zhang will travel to Europe for more competitions as he fights for his Winter Olympic dream. "If you have a passion for something, a dream, you must try. Because right now is your best moment, the youngest version of yourself." Enditem